Mesar Van Kautik, a unique Himalayan forest festival

By Ashish KotharionJun. 18, 2018in Environment and Ecology

Beginning over a dozen years back as a way to celebrate the nature-culture links in this part of the Himalaya, as also bring attention to the need to reverse ecological degradation caused by ‘development’ and the commercialisation of the nature-human relationship, the Mesar Van Kautik is a unique forest festival. It is celebrated at the beautiful Mesar lake above Munsiari, Uttarakhand, under the comforting presence of lovely Van Panchayat forests managed by villagers of Sarmoli and Shankhadhura, and the peaks beyond … with the Panchachuli range looking down from the other side of the valley. Traditional music and dances are combined with children’s theatre, several kinds of games (the biggest highlight being tugs-of-war between young and old, residents and outsiders, women and men), songs (Kumaoni and Bollywood!), an exhibition of flora-fauna-ecosystems and the activities of local groups including Jungli School, Maati Women’s Collective, Himalayan Ark, and Himal Prakriti, an annual award given for exemplary work on environment, display and sale of local produce (and perhaps not so fortunately for the first time this year, the plastic sached produce from outside that now festoons every shop in the country), freshly made hot pakodas, dal-rice, and millet roti, and and much else. This year we even had a policeman singing Kumaoni songs! The district’s Chief Development Officer, a young dynamic lady who appears to mean business, also turned up. The Van Kautik along with a Butterfly/Moth Festival, a Bird Festival, a gruelling race that takes participants up several thousand feet to the top of Khalia peak (~3500 metres), yoga and running, are part of the annual Himal Kalasutra event; this year a Stree Shakti festival was also added, involving discussions in local educational institutions and painting public buildings with the Delhi Street Art group. The events were organised by the Sarmoli village community, the Sarmoli Jainti Van Panchayat, Jungli School, Maati Women’s Collective, Himalayan Ark, and Himal Prakriti, along with Kalpavriksh, Titli Trust, and Bird Count India, and some assistance from the district administration.

Some images from the 2018 Van Kautik, held on 27th May:

Women of Sarmoli, Shankhadhura and other settlements begin the celebrations with a traditional dance at Sarmoli bend

Traditional musicians from Munsiari provide the beat for the dance

The procession of women and men singing their way to the Mesar Kund

Approaching the Mesar Kund where the local deity waits to give dharshan

Final approach to the Mesar Kund deity 

Mahima Routela with stories and illustrations of local birds written / drawn by her and others of Jungli School 

The lovely Mesar Kund, with the festivities in the background

Women’s dance and singing, to welcome guests including the Chief Development Officer of the region

Rekha Routela and Trilok Rana, local residents and bird guides, explain the exhibition to the Chief Development Officer

Which pair can get the tyre to the finishing line first? One of many games at the Kautik

A local school puts up a theatre performance

With loads of good-natured rivalry, the tug-of-war everyone waits for 

First published on the author’s blog

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